Mayan Farming

The Maya were expert farmers. This is important because the region that they lived in (Central America and Mexico) did not have an overabundance of game animals.

The Maya farmed mainly using the slash and burn technique. Basically, they cut down and burned the trees and foliage in the area where they wanted to plant. The ash became a natural fertilizer for their crops.

The Maya also understood the principles of crop and field rotation. That is, they knew that they could not plant the same crops in the same fields over and over again each year. They probably planted corn one year and then beans or squash the next. After a few years of this, the land was left fallow (unplanted) for up to ten years so that the soil could regain nutrients. Then the process would start all over again.

The Maya did most of their plowing by hand because there were no suitable animals in the region that they could tame and use to pull plows.

The Maya probably lived on communal farms. Several families shared the land and farmed it in cooperation with each other. Most of the crops grown in the communal farms were probably used to feed non-farming members of the societ. Each family probably also had a smaller farm or garden where they grew crops for their personal use.

Some people speculate that farm failure was part of the reason that the Mayan civilization fell apart. We are fairly sure that some of the Mayan cities were heavily populated. Perhaps the land suitable for farming near the cities was used up, and a famine helped caused the decline of the Maya. Others speculate that the farmers began moving away from the cities or were absorbed by other tribes in the region. Without a steady supply of food (and labor by the farmers during the non-growing season), the Mayan cities would not be able to sustain themselves and would wither.